US, World Customs Organization officials highlight benefits, potential

Global trade will be better protected against terrorism and other cross-border crime and will flow more smoothly under a new set of standards for trade security and facilitation likely to be adopted in June, a US Department of Homeland Security official says.

Speaking on May 24 to foreign correspondents in New York, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Robert Bonner said he is optimistic that the World Customs Organization (WCO) Council will vote for the standards framework.

He said it is possible that very shortly after the council’s decision at least “a couple of dozen countries” will be ready to join the framework.

“So that we actually start off—with a critical mass of countries that [will say that] they are not only prepared to but actually are already implementing all of the framework’s standards to the maximum extent of their capabilities,” Bonner said.

In December 2004, a WCO high-level group adopted the draft trade security and facilitation framework based on four principles: harmonized advanced electronic manifest information on cross-border shipments, a risk-management approach, application of modern technology, and customs privileges for businesses that meet minimal supply-chain security standards.

Bonner said the framework, which aims to harmonize certain customs standards and procedures across the globe, draws on the experience of existing national or regional initiatives such as the US Container Security Initiative and the European Union Customs Security Program.

He said that the WCO standards, covering all modes of transportation, will for the first time offer comparable protections and benefits to countries and traders around the world.

Bonner acknowledged that previous international customs harmonization efforts have not always been successful. But with the WCO framework in place, he said, the potential for success is greater because countries would for the first time use common approaches and a unified set of security data available to all their respective customs agencies. Countries also will be offering tangible benefits to qualified businesses, he said.

WCO Secretary-General Michel Danet, who also briefed reporters, said that the framework aims to address weak security spots in the world trading system because a terrorist incident in one country would affect the entire system.

But he said that protecting trade against terrorist manipulation is not the framework’s only goal. He said that the framework has the potential to guide and drive customs reform and modernization efforts that are badly needed to make national customs administrations more responsive to the growing needs of globalization.

Danet said that major trading countries’ and regions’ quick accession to the framework would help entice other countries to join. However, he said he believes that businesses engaged in international trade will be his staunchest allies in efforts to convince their governments of the framework’s advantages, including increased customs revenue.

Danet said that the WCO is ready to help developing countries build the capacity necessary to implement the framework. The organization will be seeking money for that purpose from sponsors, including international organizations and private-sector partners, when it is better able to assess the extent and specifics of the need for such assistance, he said.

Bonner added that capacity-building aid will depend on meeting implementation benchmarks.

The WCO Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade is available on the US Customs and Border Protection Web site.

(Office of State Department Public Communication Division)